About Knight in Paper Armor:
"Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.
Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.
When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know."
Knight in Paper Armor is a YA sci-fi/dystopian that I found myself far more than any other YA I've read recently. It's a fantastic mix of imagination, social issues, moral and ethical discussions, and a strong plot to keep the story interesting.
The story follows Billy, a boy who was born with psychic abilities that has turned him into a bit of a case study as he lives, essentially, as an experiment to be studied. His powers allow him to basically absorb emotions and energies from others, which Conley executed in a way that made me constantly curious to see how different people and situations would end up affecting him. I also really liked that Billy was a Jewish protagonist, as there really aren't enough prominent Jewish characters in fiction and I love the perspective it added, especially in regards to treatment and experience. During the story, we also meet Natalia who is a bit rebellious in nature and opposes the powers that keep everyone in place. Together, the two form an unlikely but powerful pair who share a passion for change and goodness.
Another strength of Knight in Paper Armor is its consistent pacing, which had plenty of action to balance out moments of calmer activity and discussion. The plotting itself also benefits from the good pacing as the reader is first introduced the general set up of the story, then slowly meets Billy and jumps to experiencing and understanding his life as a sort of lab rat. Everything else then falls into place and takes off as the story progresses.
There are a lot of great things about this book, but one last area that I particularly appreciated was in how Conley brings real societal issues from past and present to develop strong and nuanced discussions and explorations. This book gets fairly heavy at times, and I appreciate that Conley didn't try to cover up reality or the truth of the world and how life can be, but instead presented in a way that felt realistic, relevant, and relatable, but also wasn't too overwhelming and always had an air of positivity that worked well with the entire atmosphere. This felt like a very inspirational and uplifting book overall despite the hard moments, so if that's something you look for in your books, this would be a great pick.
I don't have very many negative comments about this book, and the only sort of comment/critique I'd make is that there were occasional moments where the dialogue felt a bit awkward or stilted, and I'm not sure if it's because they were teenagers and made to sound like them or if it was just me or what. Also, as much as I liked the characters and their development, there were similar occurrences where I felt there could have been just a bit more development to make actions feel a bit smoother or connected to each character.
Overall, I've given Knight in Paper Armor four stars! I expected and hoped to like this book, but I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did so I'm really thankful that I got the opportunity to read it.
*I received a copy of Knight in Paper Armor courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*